Five things we learned about completely reinventing Jewish life

On March 7, the first ever Harry Kay Leadership Summit presented Rabbi Mike Uram, who literally wrote the book on redefining the Jewish community. Next Generation Judaism: How College Students and Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations offers innovative strategies to keep the Jewish community relevant for the next generation, and Uram discussed his methods with the Twin Cities Jewish community at two events—a workshop for professionals at Jewish organizations and a keynote presentation open to the entire community.
Here, our top takeaways:

#1 We need a thesaurus.

Uram suggests moving away from the phrase “the Jewish community.” This one might be hard for us, but the point is valid: “Every time we use stock phrases like ‘the Jewish community,’ we make a mistake because we fail to acknowledge the complexity of Jewish communities,” Uram writes. “That mistake often leads Jewish organizations to adopt a “one-size-fits-all approach to trying to reach different types of Jews.”


#2 Network versus community.

Instead of a community, we should think of ourselves as a network—more transient, and able to shift as the needs of Jews in the Twin Cities change.


#3 More than planning programs or events, we need to build relationships.

Jewish organizations are always dreaming up fun and educational events to remind people about our vibrant Jewish community (see, there we go again with that word). But building relationships with the people who attend the events are more likely to make them feel good about Jewish life in the Twin Cities than immediately beginning to plan the next event.


#4 Keep doing “High Holiday” events…but do more “Passover seder” events.

Uram divides engagement into two models: the High Holiday model and the Seder model.
“The High Holiday model is authentically Jewish,” says Uram. “Huge public spectacles, thousands of people show up, there’s a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.”
The Passover Seder model, according to Uram, allows smaller groups of people to customize what happens—because they are leading it. “Even though we’re not all together there’s a sense of belonging to something larger than yourself.”

#5 Instead of “affiliated” and “unaffiliated,” try “engagement” and “empowerment.”

Empowerment Jews are self-directed to seek out Jewish life. “They know all the acronyms,” says Uram. Engagement Jews feel just as Jewish, but they’re looking for ways to connect outside of institutional membership or affiliation.


Our copy of Next Generation Judaism is littered with Post-Its, and we’re already employing some of its strategies. We highly recommend it—you can find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound (and we may have a few extra copies at Federation if you ask nicely).



Want more inspiration? View our Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Minneapolis Jewish Life.

Already feeling inspired? Power Jewish life with a donation to the 2018 Community Campaign (it ends this week!)

You rekindled their love of traditions

Learning to “make” Shabbat through Hillel
Benjie Kaplan, the Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Minnesota, explains that there are between 80-100 students who attend Shabbat on campus each Friday.

On the third Friday of every month, a few of the students volunteer to host Shabbat for these 80 students in their dorms or apartments. Hillel gives them songbooks, candles, and challah, and students get reimbursed for their grocery receipts.

Young adults know how to attend Shabbat, but they generally don’t know how to make Shabbat. Hillel is giving our kids a venue to figure out how to create their own Jewish homes.

There’s something so beautiful about going off to college and unexpectedly finding Shabbat is part of one’s education, too. You make that happen.


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Because of you–he got to be a kid today


The Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and Minnesota Hillel, through Partnership2Gether, sent a group of college students to Israel over spring break this March for an “alternative spring break” of volunteering and learning.

A much richer experience than a typical Birthright or tourist-oriented visit to Israel, Alternative Spring Break offers students the opportunity to see Israel “off the beaten path,” providing immersive experiences interacting with Israelis from all walks of life.

This is a wonderful example of how what we do gives our community a richer and more beneficial understanding of our people and our connection to the land and the modern nation of Israel—and perhaps even a greater Jewish self-awareness. In fact, students report feeling a strong sense of connection to and pride in their community and to Israel after experiences like this.

Alternative spring break is a week full of life-changing moments; here’s a taste from 2017 participant Eli Singer.

On Tuesday, we drove into South Tel Aviv, a slum located within the “party city” that we all know and love. There we learned about Elifelet, an organization providing nursery school and childcare to Sudanese and Eritrean refugee children. These families come to South Tel Aviv as undocumented workers to escape persecution in their own countries.

After learning about the organization, we went to a dingy, second-story apartment housing one of the nurseries. There, we were each paired with a child to play with at a park across the street. I was paired with a boy named Yafet who was incredibly energetic and intelligent and the oldest boy of the group.

It was hard to see their living conditions, but we could tell that even taking these kids out for an hour totally changed their moods and allowed them to forget about their extremely difficult lives and just be kids.  

This trip has meant so much—it exposed me to what Israel is actually like. While Birthright shows tourists the best and most famous aspects of the country, this trip allowed me to see that the country I thought to be nearly perfect actually has many real flaws and issues. It was absolutely inspiring to learn about these issues and see the organizations and individuals striving to make them better.


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This is what we do.

Just a few months ago, Odelia and Ohad Brat celebrated one of the happiest occasions of their lives: their son’s bar mitzvah. They’ll never forget when he received his brand-new tefillin—special leather boxes worn during prayer—from his beloved grandparents. Everyone was so filled with pride.

And they’ll never forget grabbing those tefillin as they and their six children quickly fled their home. A raging fire was only minutes away. So they took what was most precious to them.

It was a smart split-second decision. Flames destroyed much of the Brat family house. The entire upstairs was charred. When the family returned, they barely recognized what used to be their home.

The Brats did make one unlikely discovery, though. A bank tin, badly burned. Inside was the money one of their sons had earned mowing lawns for neighbors. It was dirty and damp, but it was there.

It’s a symbol for what it will take to rebuild their home and their lives. It’s not going to happen overnight. But they have each other. And they have Federation partner The Jewish Agency for Israel, which is delivering grants of $1,000 to families across Israel who lost everything in the fires.

With the grant, the Brats are able to buy clothing, medicine and other essentials for their large family. Odelia says that the care, concern, and support they’ve received from The Jewish Agency has left her speechless.

People just like us, our children, our parents or grandparents, desperately need our help. Your gift to Federation removes obstacles. You bridge gaps. A hot meal is delivered to a homebound elderly person. An emergency loan feeds a struggling family. A bus brings a child to camp. A ramp opens up Jewish life for a disabled person.

People just like us, our children, our parents or grandparents, desperately need our help. Your gift to Federation removes obstacles. It bridges gaps. It delivers a hot meal to a homebound elderly person. It feeds a struggling family. It brings a child to camp. It allows a disabled person to lead a  vibrant Jewish life.

Your gift makes this possible. Please give generously so we can continue doing this important work.